Lonnie Donegan and the Birth of British Rock & Roll, by Patrick Humphries: review

Martin Chilton:

The miserable side of Lonnie Donegan is the lasting impression from a new biography of the King Of Skiffle.

The man who had such a massive pop hit with My Old Man's A Dustman seems to have had a personality that stank. Negative, prickly, rude, difficult, mean, moany, suspicious and bitter are just a few of the words used by musicians and family members in an engrossing new biography to describe Lonnie Donegan.

The list of musicians inspired by his work is prodigious and impressive. Van Morrison, George Harrison, Mark Knopfler, Paul McCartney, Bill Wyman, Brian May and Richard Thompson pay fulsome tribute in Lonnie Donegan and the Birth of British Rock & Roll, and Patrick Humphries's extensive and well-researched book is ultimately sympathetic to its subject.

But musicians who worked with Donegan tell of a dismally mean-spirited man. Jazz singer George Melly said that even before Donegan had his hits with Leadbelly's Rock Island Line, and Dustman, Donegan was "incredibly big-headed, conceited, arrogant and patronising".